Tell it to The Packer | Letter to the Editor

Bryan Silbermann
Produce Marketing Association
Newark, Del.

I must disagree with Chris Koger’s Dec. 21 opinion piece (“USDA kicks off tunnel study dubiously”) that took a swipe at the food initiative coming out of the White House. My response is prompted not by politics, but by my concern that our industry must focus on the demands of consumers.

We should not treat with contempt the many trends that are finding their expression in the garden at the White House — and in produce aisles and restaurants throughout the U.S. We know that consumers are looking for connections to their food, wanting to know how it was grown, where it came from, and the values of the company whose name is on the label.

We deride these trends at our peril. 

What is more, food as a social movement provides us with an enormous opportunity. The demand for seasonal and flavorful food is, in the end, a celebration of produce that can change consumers’ eating patterns and boost consumption. 

The Packer chose to mock this trend with a false choice, asking if the administration officials in the White House garden were speaking to growers or to the “administration’s progressive base.” 

Divisions that put the industry on the other side of powerful movements such as local food will only further the misimpression that the produce industry does not understood or is unable to meet the demands of these consumers.

Instead, we need to create more bridges between consumers and those who grow and supply their food. 

In my October 2009 State of the Industry presentation, I suggested that “we stop defining our world, the world of our consumers, or the relationship we have with government, in the traditional black and white terms of ‘either/or.’ The future belongs to those who can shape it in terms much more ‘both/and’ than ‘either/or.’”

Indeed, it is in our interests as an industry to have more people, not fewer, gain a better appreciation of the complexity involved in growing fresh fruits and vegetables.

Another American writer and journalist, Charles Dudley Warner, understood this: “To own a bit of ground, to scratch it with a hoe, to plant seeds, and watch the renewal of life — this is the commonest delight of the race, the most satisfactory thing a man can do.”

Romantic musings of a time long past? Only if you ignore one of the strongest social trends of our time.